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December 21, 1851. My difficulties with my friends are such as no frankness will settle. There is no precept in the New Testament that will assist me.... Others can confess and explain, I cannot. It is not that I am too proud. But explanation is not what is wanted. Friendship is the unspeakable joy and blessing that result to two or more individuals who from constitution sympathize. Such natures are liable to no mistakes, but will know each other through thick and thin. Between two by nature alike and fitted to sympathize there is no veil, and there can be no obstacle. Who are the estranged? Two friends explaining.
I feel sometimes as if I could say to my friends, "My friends, I am aware how I have outraged you, how I have seemingly preferred hate to love, seemingly treated others kindly and you unkindly, sedulously concealed my love, and sooner or later expressed all and more than all my hate." I can imagine how I might utter something like this, in some moment never to be realized, but, at the same time, let me say frankly that I feel I might say it with too little regret, that I am under an awful necessity to be what I am. If the truth were known, which I do not know, I have no concern with those friends whom I misunderstand or who misunderstand me. The fates only are unkind that keep us asunder; but my friend is ever kind. I am of the nature of stone. It takes the summer's sun to warm it. My acquaintances sometimes imply that I am too cold, but each thing is warm enough for its kind. Is the stone too cold which absorbs the heat of the summer sun, and does not part with it during the night? Crystals, though they be of ice, are not too cold to melt; it was in melting that they were formed. Cold! I am most sensible of warmth in winter days. It is not the warmth of fire that you would have; everything is warm or cold according to its nature. It is not that I am too cold, but that our warmth and coldness are not of the same nature. Hence when I am absolutely warmest, I may be coldest to you. Crystal does not complain of crystal any more than the dove of its mate. You who complain that I am cold, find Nature cold. To me she is warm. My heat is latent to you. Fire itself is cold to whatever is not of a nature to be warmed by it.... That I am cold means that I am of another nature....
How swiftly the earth appears to revolve at sunset, which at midday appears to rest on its axis.
Dec. 21, 1853. We are tempted to call these the finest days of the year. Take Fair Haven Pond, for instance, a perfectly level plain of snow, untrodden as yet by any fisherman, surrounded by snow-clad hills, dark, evergreen woods, and reddish oak leaves, so pure and still. The last rays of the sun falling on Baker Farm reflect a clear pink color. I see the feathers of a partridge strewn along on the snow for a long distance, the work of some hawk, perhaps, for there is no track.
What a groveling appetite for profitless jest and amusement our countrymen have! Next to a good dinner, at least, they love a good joke, to have their sides tickled, to laugh sociably, as in the East they bathe and are shampooed. Curators of Lyceums write to me,
DEAR SIR, I hear that you have a lecture of some humor. Will you do us the favor to read it before the Bungtown Institute?
Dec. 22, 1851. If I am thus seemingly cold compared with my companion's warm, who knows but mine is a less transient glow, a steadier and more equable heat, like that of the earth in spring, in which the flowers spring and expand. It is not words that I wish to hear or to utter, but relations that I wish to stand in, and it oftener happens, methinks, I go away unmet, unrecognized, ungreeted in my offered relation, than that you are disappointed of words.
I have seen in the form, in the expression of face, of a child three years old the tried magnanimity and grave nobility of ancient and departed worthies. I saw a little Irish boy, come from the distant shanty in the woods over the bleak railroad to school this morning, take his last step from the last snow-drift on to the schoolhouse door-step, floundering still, saw not his face nor his profile, only his mien; I imagined, saw clearly in imagination, his old worthy face behind the sober visor of his cap. Ah! this little Irish boy, I know not why, revives to my mind the worthies of antiquity. He is not drawn, he never was drawn, in a willow wagon. He progresses by his own brave steps. Has not the world waited for such a generation? Here he condescends to his a b c, without one smile, who has the lore of worlds uncounted in his brain. He speaks not of the adventures of the causeway. What was the bravery of Leonidas and his three hundred boys at the Pass of Thermopylae to this infant's! They but dared to die, he dares to live, and take his "reward of merit," perchance (without relaxing his face into a smile), that overlooks his unseen and unregardable merits. Little Johnny Riorden, who faces cold and routs it like a Persian army. While the charitable waddle about cased in furs, he, lively as a cricket, passes them on his way to school.
Dec. 22, 1853. Surveying the Hunt farm. A rambling, rocky, wild, moorish pasture this of Hunt's, with two or three great white oaks to shade the cattle, which the farmer would not take fifty dollars apiece for, though the shipbuilder wanted them.
It is pleasant, as you are cutting a path through a swamp, to see the color of the different woods, the yellowish dogwood, the green prinos (?), and on the upland, the splendid yellow barberry.... You cannot go out so early but you will find the track of some wild creature.
Returning home just after the sun had sunk below the horizon, I saw from N. Barrett's a fire made by boys on the ice near the Red bridge which looked like the bright reflection of the setting sun from the water under the bridge, so clear, so little lurid in this winter evening.
Dec. 22, 1858. P. M. To Walden. I see in the cut near the shanty site quite a flock of Fringilla hyernalis and goldfinches together on the snow and weeds and ground. Hear the well-known mew and watery twitter of the last, and the drier "chill chill" of the former. These burning yellow birds, with a little black and white in their coat flaps, look warm above the snow. There may be thirty goldfinches, very brisk and pretty tame. They hang, head downwards, on the weeds. I hear of their coming to pick sunflower seeds in Melvin's garden these days.
Dec. 22, 1859. Another fine winter day. P. M. To Flint's Pond.... We pause and gaze into the Mill brook on the Turnpike bridge. I see a good deal of cress there on the bottom for a rod or two, the only green thing to be seen.... Is not this the plant which most, or most conspicuously, preserves its greenness in the winter?... It is as green as ever, and waving in the stream as in summer.
How nicely is Nature adjusted. The least disturbance of her equilibrium is betrayed and corrects itself. As I looked down on the surface of the brook, I was surprised to see a leaf floating, as I thought, up stream, but I was mistaken. The motion of a particle of dust on the surface of any brook far inland shows which way the earth declines toward the sea, which way lies the constantly descending route, and the only one.
I see in the chestnut woods near Flint's Pond where squirrels have collected the small chestnut burs left on the trees, and opened them generally at the base of the trunks on the snow. These are, I think, all small and imperfect burs, which do not so much as open in the fall, and are rejected then, but hanging on the tree, they have this use, at least, as the squirrels' winter food....
The fisherman stands still and erect on the ice, awaiting our approach, as usual forward to say that he has had no luck. He has been here since early morning, and for some reason or other he has had no luck; the fishes won't bite, you won't catch him here again in a hurry. They all tell the same story. The amount of it is, he has had "fisherman's luck," and if you walk that way, you may find him at his old post to-morrow. It is hard, to be sure; four little fishes to be divided between three men, and two and a half miles to walk; and you have only got a more ravenous appetite for the supper which you have not earned. However, the pond floor is not a bad place whereon to spend a winter day.
Dec. 23, 1837. Crossed the river to-day on the ice. Though the weather is raw and wintry, and the ground covered with snow, I noticed a solitary robin....
A forest is in all mythologies a sacred place; as the oaks among the Druids, and the grove of Egeria, and even in more familiar and common life, as "Barnsdale wood" and "Sherwood." Had Robin Hood no Sherwood to resort to, it would be difficult to invest his story with the charms it has got. It is always the tale that is untold, the deeds done, and the life lived in the unexplored scenery of the wood, that charm us and make us children again, to read his ballads and hear of the greenwood tree.
Dec. 23, 1851... It is a record of the mellow and ripe moments that I would keep. I would not preserve the husk of life, but the kernel. When the cup of life is full and flowing over, preserve some drops as a specimen sample; when the intellect enlightens the heart and the heart warms the intellect. Thoughts sometimes possess our heads when we are up and about our business which are the exact counterpart of the bad dreams we sometimes have by night, and I think the intellect is equally inert in both cases. Very frequently, no doubt, the thoughts men have are the consequence of something they have eaten or done. Our waking moods and humors are our dreams, but whenever we are truly awake and serene and healthy in all our senses, we have memorable visions. Who that takes up a book wishes for the report of the -clogged bowels or the impure blood?
Dec. 23, 1855. P. M. To Conantum End. A very bright and pleasant day with a remarkably soft wind from a little N. of W. The frost has come out so in the rain of yesterday, that I avoid the muddy plowed fields, and keep on the green ground which shines with moisture....
I admire those old root fences which have almost disappeared from tidy fields, white pine roots got out when the neighboring meadow was a swamp, the monuments of many a revolution. These roots have not penetrated into the ground, but spread over the surface, and having been cut off four or five feet from the stump were hauled off and set up on their edges for a fence. The roots were not merely interwoven, but grown together into solid frames, full of loop-holes like Gothic windows of various sizes and all shapes, triangular, and oval, and harp-like, and the slenderer parts are dry and resonant like harp strings. They are rough and unapproachable, with a hundred snags and horns, which bewilder and balk the calculation of the walker who would surmount them. The part of the trees above ground present no such fantastic forms. Here is one seven paces or more than a rod long, six feet high in the middle, and yet only one foot thick, and two men could turn it up. In this case the roots were six or nine inches thick at the extremities. The roots of pines in swamps grow thus in the form of solid frames or rackets, and those of different trees are interwoven withal so that they stand on a very broad foot, and stand or fall together to some extent before the blasts as herds meet the assaults of beasts of prey with serried front. You have thus only to dig into the swamp a little way to find your fence, post, rails, and slats already solidly grown together, and of material more durable than any timber. How pleasing a thought that a field should be fenced with the roots of the trees got out in clearing the land a century before. I regret them as mementos of the primitive forest. The tops of the same trees made into fencing stuff would have decayed generations ago. These roots are singularly unobnoxious to the effects of moisture....
Think of the life of a kitten, ours, for instance. Last night her eyes set in a fit; it is doubtful if she will ever come out of it, and she is set away in a basket and submitted to the recuperative powers of nature; this morning running up the clothes' pole, and erecting her back in frisky sport to every passer.
Dec. 23, 1856. Some savage tribes must share the experience of the lower animals in their relation to man. With what thoughts must the Esquimau manufacture his knife from the rusty hoop of a cask drifted to his shores, not a natural, but an artificial product, the work of man's hands, the waste of the commerce of a superior race whom perhaps he never saw
The cracking of the ground is a phenomenon of the coldest nights. After being waked by the loud cracks of the 18th at Amherst, a man told me in the morning that he had seen a crack running across the plain (I saw it) almost broad enough to put his hand into. This was an exaggeration. It was not one fourth of an inch wide. I saw a great many the same forenoon running across the road in Nashua, every few rods, and also by our house in Concord the same day when I got home. So it seems the ground was cracking all the country over. Partly, no doubt, because there was so little snow, or none. None at Concord.
If the writer would interest readers, he must report so much life, using a certain satisfaction always as a point d'appui. However mean and limited, it must be a genuine and contented life that he speaks out of. His readers must have the essence or oil of himself, tried out of the fat of his experience and joy.
Dec. 23, 1860.... Larks were about our house the middle of this month.
Dec. 24, 1840. The same sun has not yet shone on me and my friend. He would hardly have to look at me to recognize me, but glimmer with half-shut eye like some friendly distant taper when we are benighted. I do not talk to any intellect in nature, but am presuming an infinite heart somewhere into which I play.
Our thoughts are with those among the dead into whose sphere we are rising, or who are now rising into our own. Others we inevitably forget, though they be brothers and sisters. Thus the departed may be nearer to us than when they were present. At death, our friends and relatives either draw nearer to us, and are found out, or depart farther from us, and are forgotten. Friends are as often brought nearer together as separated by death.
In Weston's field in springy land on the edge of a swamp I counted thirty-three or four of those large silvery brown cocoons within a rod or two, and probably there are many more; about a foot from the ground, commonly on the main stem, though sometimes on a branch close to the stem, of the alder, sweet fern, brake, etc. The largest are four inches long by two and one half wide, bag-shaped and wrinkled, and partly concealed by dry leaves, alder, fern, etc., attached, as if sprinkled over them. This evidence of cunning in so humble a creature is affecting, for I am not ready to refer it to an intelligence which the creature does not share, as much as we do the prerogative of reason. This radiation of the brain! The bare silvery cocoon would otherwise be too obvious. The worm has evidently said to itself, man or some other creature may come by and see my casket. I will disguise it, will hang a screen before it. Brake, and sweet fern, and alder leaves are not only loosely sprinkled over it and dangling from it, but often, as it were, pasted close upon and almost incorporated into it.
Dec. 24, 1854. Some three inches of snow fell last night and this morning, concluding with a fine rain, which produced a slight glaze, the first of the winter. This gives the woods a hoary aspect, and increases the stillness by making the leaves immovable even in a considerable wind.
Dec. 24, 1856.... Noticed at E. end of the westernmost Andromeda Pond the slender spikes of Lycopus with half-a-dozen little spherical dark brown whorls of pungently fragrant or spicy seeds, somewhat nutmeg-like or even like flagroot (?) when bruised. I am not sure that the seeds of any other mint are thus fragrant now. It scents your handkerchief or pocket-book finely when the crumbled whorls are sprinkled over them. It was very pleasant walking thus before the storm was over, in the soft, subdued light. We are more domesticated in nature when our vision is confined to near and familiar objects. Did not see a track of any animal till returning, near Well-Meadow Field, where many foxes (?), one of whom I had a glimpse of, had been coursing back and forth in the path and near it for three quarters of a mile. They had made quite a path.
I do not take snuff. In my winter walks I stoop and bruise between my thumb and finger the dry whorls of the Lycopus or water horehound, just rising above the snow, stripping them off, and smell that. That is as near as I come to the Spice Islands.
Dec. 24, 1859.... I measure the blueberry bush on Fairhaven Pond Island. The five stems are united at the ground so as to make one round and solid trunk thirty-one inches in circumference,. but probably they have grown together there, for they become separate at about six inches above. They may have sprung from different seeds of one berry. At three feet from the ground they measure eleven, eleven, eleven and one half, eight, and six and one half or on an average nine and one half inches. I climbed up and found a comfortable seat, with my feet four feet from the ground. There was room for three or four more there, but unfortunately this was not the season for berries. There were several other clumps of large ones in the neighborhood. One clump close by the former contained twenty-three stems within a diameter of three feet, and their average diameter at three feet from the ground was about two inches These had not been cut because they stood on this small island which has little wood beside, and therefore bad grown thus large....
Dec. 25, 1840. The character of Washington has, after all, been undervalued, because not valued correctly. He was a proper Puritan hero. It is his erectness and persistency which attract me. A few simple deeds with a dignified silence for background, and that is all. He never fluctuated, nor lingered, nor stooped, nor swerved, but was nobly silent and assured. He was not the darling of the people, as no man of integrity can ever be, but was as much respected as loved. His instructions to his steward, his refusal of a crown, his interview with his officers at the termination of the war, his thoughts after his retirement, as expressed in a letter to La Fayette, his remarks to another correspondent on his being chosen president, his last words to Congress, and the unparalleled respect which his most distinguished contemporaries, as Fox and Erskine, expressed for him, are refreshing to read in these unheroic days. His behavior in the field and in council and his dignified and contented withdrawal to private life were great. He could advance and he could withdraw.
Dec. 25, 1841. It seems as if Nature did for a long time gently overlook the profanity of man. The wood still kindly echoes the strokes of the axe, and when the strokes are few and seldom, they add a new charm to a walk. All the elements strive to naturalize the sound....
It is not a true apology for any coarseness to say that it is natural. The grim woods can afford to be very delicate and perfect in the details.
I don't want to feel as if my life were a sojourn any longer. That philosophy cannot be true which so paints it. It is time now that I begin to live.
Dec. 25, 1851.... I go forth to see the sun set. Who knows how it will set even half an hour beforehand? Whether it will go down in clouds or a clear sky?... I witness a beauty in the form or coloring of the clouds which addresses itself to my imagination. It is what it suggests and is the symbol of that I care for, and if, by any trick of science, you rob it of this, you do me no service and explain nothing. I, standing twenty miles off, see a crimson cloud in the horizon. You tell me it is a mass of vapor which absorbs all other rays and reflects the red; but that is nothing to the purpose, for this red vision excites me, stirs my blood, makes my thoughts flow. I have new and indescribable fancies, and you have not touched the secret of that influence. If there is not something mystical in your explanation,... it is quite insufficient.... What sort of science is that which enriches the understanding, but robs the imagination? Not merely robs Peter to pay Paul, but takes from Peter more than it ever gives to Paul. That is simply the way in which it speaks to the understanding,... but that is not the way it speaks to the imagination.... Just as inadequate to a mere mechanic would be a poet's account of a steam-engine. If we knew all things thus mechanically merely, should we know anything really? It would be a true discipline for the writer to take the least film of thought that floats in the twilight sky of his mind for his theme, about which he has scarcely one idea (that would be teaching his ideas how to shoot), make a lecture on this, by assiduity and attention get perchance two views of the same, increase a little the stock of knowledge, clear a new field instead of manuring the old.... We seek too soon to ally the perceptions of the mind to the experience of the hand, to prove our gossamer truths practical, to show their connection with every-day life (better show their distance from every-day life), to relate them to the cider mill and the banking institution.... That way of viewing things you know of, least insisted on by you however, least remembered, take that view, adhere to that, insist on that; see all things from that point of view. Will you let these intimations go unattended to, and watch the door bell or knocker?... Do not speak for other men; think for yourself. You are shown as in a vision the kingdoms of this world, and of all the worlds, but you prefer to look in upon a puppet show. Though you should speak but to one kindred mind in all time, though you should not speak to one, but only utter aloud, that you may the more completely realize and live in, the idea which contains the reason of your life, that you may build yourself up to the height of your conceptions, that you may remember your creator in the days of your youth, and justify his ways to man, that the end of life may not be its amusement.
Dec. 25, 1853. P. M. Skated to Fair Haven and above.... About 4 P. M. the sun sank behind a cloud and the pond began to whoop or boom. I noticed the same yesterday at the same hour on Flint's. It was perfectly silent before. The weather in both cases clear, cold, and windy.
It is a sort of belching, and as C. said, somewhat frog-like. I suspect it did not continue to whoop long either night. It is a very pleasing phenomenon, so dependent on the attitude of the sun.
When I go to Boston, I go naturally straight through the city down to the end of Long Wharf and look off, for I have no cousins in the back alleys. The water and the vessels are novel and interesting. What are our maritime cities but the shops and dwellings of merchants about a wharf projecting into the sea where there is a convenient harbor, on which to land the produce of other climes, and at which to load the exports of your own. Next in interest to me is the market where the produce of our own country is collected. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, New Orleans, and many others are the names of wharves projecting into the sea. They are good places to take in or to discharge a cargo. I see a great many barrels and fig drums, and piles of wood for umbrella sticks, and blocks of granite and ice, etc., and that is Boston. Great piles of goods, and the means of packing and conveying them, much wrapping paper and twine, many crates and hogsheads and trucks, that is Boston. The more barrels, the more Boston. The museums and scientific societies and libraries are accidental. They gather around the barrels to save carting.
Apparently the ice is held down on the sides of the river by being frozen to the shore and the weeds, and *so is overflowed there; but in the middle it is lifted up and makes room for the tide.
I saw just above Fair Haven Pond two or three places where just before the last freezing, when the ice was softened and partly covered with sleet, there had been a narrow canal about eight inches wide quite across the river from meadow to meadow. I am constrained to believe, from the peculiar character of it on the meadow end, where in one case it divided and crossed itself, that it was made either by muskrats or otters or minks repeatedly crossing there. One end was, for some distance, like an otter trail in the soft upper part of the ice, not worn through.
Dec. 25, 1856. P. M. To Lee's Cliff. A strong wind from the N. W. is gathering the snow into picturesque drifts 'behind the walls. As usual, they resemble shells more than anything else, sometimes the prows of vessels, also the folds of a white napkin or counterpane dropped over a bonneted head. There are no such picturesque snowdrifts as are formed behind loose and open stone walls....
Take long walks in stormy weather, or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.
Dec. 25, 1858.... Now that the sun is setting, all its light seems to glance over the snow-clad pond [Walden], and strike the rocky shore under the pitch pines at the N. E. end. Though the bare, rocky shore there is only a foot or a foot and a half high, as I look, it reflects so much light that the rocks are singularly distinct, as if the pond showed its teeth.... How full of soft, pure light the western sky now, after sunset! I love to see the outlines of the pines against it. Unless you watch, you do not know when the sun goes down. It is like a candle extinguished without smoke. A moment ago you saw that glittering orb amid the dry oak leaves in the horizon and now you can detect no trace of it....
But for all voice in that serene hour, I hear an owl hoot. How glad I am to hear him rather than the most eloquent man of the age.
Dec. 25, 1859. How different are men and women, e. g., in respect to the adornment of their heads. Do you ever see an old or jammed bonnet on the head of a woman at a public meeting? But look at any assembly of men with their hats on; how large a proportion of the hats will be old, weather-beaten, and indented; but, I think, so much more picturesque and interesting. One farmer rides by my door in a hat which it does me good to see, there is so much character in it, so much independence, to begin with, and then affection for his old friends, etc., etc. I should not wonder if there were lichens on it. Think of painting a hero in a brand-new hat! The chief recommendation of the Kossuth hat is that it looks old to start with, and almost as good as new to end with. Indeed, it is generally conceded that a man does not look the worse for a somewhat dilapidated hat. But go to a lyceum and look at the bonnets and various other head gear of the women and girls (who, by the way, keep their hats on, it being too dangerous and expensive to take them off), why, every one looks as fragile as a butterfly's wings, having just come out of a bandbox, as it will go into a bandbox again when the lyceum is over. Men wear their hats for use, women theirs for ornament. I have seen the greatest philosopher in the town with what the traders would call a "shocking bad bat" on, but the woman whose bonnet does not come up to the mark is at best a blue-stocking. The man is not particularly proud of his beaver and musquash, but the woman flaunts her ostrich and sable in your face. Ladies are in haste to dress as if it were cold or as if it were warm, though it may not yet be so, merely to display a new dress.
Dec. 26, 1840.... When the pond is frozen I do not suspect the wealth under my feet. How many pickerel are poised on easy fin fathoms below the loaded wain. The revolution of the seasons must be a curious phenomenon to them. Now the sun and wind brush aside their curtain, and they see the heavens again.
Sunday, Dec. 26, 1841.... When I hear this bell ring, I am carried back to years and Sabbaths when I was newer and more innocent, I fear, than now, and it seems to me as if there were a world within a world. Sin, I am sure, is not in overt acts, or indeed in acts of any kind, but is in proportion to the time which has come behind us, and displaced eternity, to the degree in which our elements are mixed with the elements of the world. The whole duty of life is implied in the question, how to respire and aspire both at once.
Dec. 26, 1850. The pine woods seen from the hill-tops, now that the ground is covered with snow, are not green, but a dark brown, greenish brown, perhaps. You see dark patches of wood.
Dec. 26,1851. I observed this afternoon that when E H came home from sledding wood and unyoked his oxen, they made a business of stretching and scratching themselves with their horns, rubbing themselves against the posts, and licking themselves in those parts which the yoke had prevented their reaching all day. The human way in which they behaved affected me even pathetically. They were too serious to be glad that their day's work was done; they had not spirits enough left for that. They behaved as a tired wood-chopper might. This was to me a new phase in the life of the laboring ox. It is painful to think how they may sometimes be overworked.
Dec. 26, 1853. This forenoon it snowed pretty hard for some hours, the first snow of any consequence thus far. It is about three inches deep. I go out at 2 1/2 P. M. just as it ceases. Now is the time before the wind rises, or the sun has shone, to go forth and see the snow on the trees. The clouds have lifted somewhat, but are still spitting snow a little. The vapor of the steam-engine does not rise high in the misty air.... The snow has fallen so gently that it forms an upright wall on the slenderest twig. The agreeable maze which the branches make is more obvious than ever, and every twig thus laden is as still as the hillside itself. The pitch pines are covered with soft globular masses. The effect of the snow is to press down the forest, confound it with the grasses, and create a new surface to the earth above, shutting us in with it, and we go along somewhat like moles through our galleries. The sight of the pure and track less road up Brister's Hill, with branches and trees supporting snowy burdens bending over it on each side, would tempt us to begin life again. The ice is covered up and skating gone. The bare hills are so white that I cannot see their outlines against the misty sky. The snow lies handsomely on the shrub-oaks, like a coarse braiding in the air. They have so many small and zigzag twigs that it comes near to filling up with a light snow to that depth. The bunters are already out with dogs to follow the first beast that makes a track. Saw a small flock of tree sparrows in the sproutlands under Bartlett's Cliff. Their metallic chip is much like the lisp of the chickadee. All weeds with their seeds rising dark above the snow are now remarkably conspicuous, which before were not observed against the dark earth. I passed by the pitch pine that was struck by lightning, and was impressed with awe on looking up and seeing that broad, distinct, spiral mark, more distinct even than when made eight years ago, as one might groove a walking stick,... mark where a terrific and resistless bolt came down from heaven, out of the harmless sky, eight years ago. It seemed a sacred spot. I felt that we had not learned much since the days of Tullus Hostilius. The tree at length shows the effect of the shock, and the woodpeckers have begun to bore it on one side.
Walden still open. Saw in it a small diver, probably a grebe or dobchick, dipper or what not, with the markings, so far as I saw, of the crested grebe, but smaller. It had a black head, a white ring about its neck, a white breast, black back, and apparently no tail. It dived and swam a few rods under water, and when on the surface kept turning round and round warily, nodding its head the while. This is the only pond hereabouts that is open.
Was overtaken by an Irishman seeking work. I asked him if he could chop wood. He said he was not long in this country, that he could cut one side of a tree well enough, but he had not learned to change hands and cut the other, without going round it, what we call crossing the calf. They get very small wages at this season of the year, almost give up the ghost in the effort to keep soul and body together. He left me on the run to find a new master.
Dec. 26, 1854. At R 's [New Bedford]. I do not remember to have ever seen such a day as this in Concord. There is no snow here (though there has been excellent sleighing at Concord since the 5th), but it is very muddy, the frost coming out of the ground as in spring with us.
I went to walk in the woods with R. It was wonderfully warm and pleasant. The cockerels crowed just as in a spring day at home. I felt the winter breaking up in me, and if I had been at home, I should have tried to write poetry. They told me that this was not a rare day there, that they had little or no winter such as we have, and it was owing to the influence of the Gulf Stream which was only sixty miles from Nantucket at the nearest, or one hundred and twenty miles from them. In mid-winter when the wind was S. E. or even S. W., they frequently had days as warm and debilitating as in summer. There is a difference of about a degree in latitude between Concord and New Bedford, but far more in climate. The American holly is quite common there, with its red berries still holding on, and is now their Christmas evergreen. I heard the _ larks sing strong and sweet, and saw robins.... R. said that pheasants from England (where they are not indigenous) had been imported into Naushon and are now killed there.
Dec. 26, 1855. After snow, rain, and hail yesterday and last night, we have this morning quite a glaze, there being at least an inch or two of crusted snow on the ground; the most we have had. The sun comes out at 9 A. M. and lights up the ice-incrusted trees.... I go to Walden via the almshouse and up the railroad. Trees seen in the west against the dark cloud, the sun shining on them, are perfectly white as frost work, and their outlines very perfectly and distinctly revealed, great wisps that they are and ghosts of trees, with recurved twigs. The walls and fences are incased, and the fields bristle with a myriad of crystal spears. Already the wind is rising and a brattling is heard overhead in the street. The sun shining down a gorge over the woods at Brister's Hill reveals a wonderfully brilliant, as well as seemingly solid and diversified region in the air. The ice is from an eighth to a quarter of an inch thick about the twigs and pine needles, only one half as thick commonly on one side. The heads of the trees are bowed, and their plumes and needles stiff as if preserved under glass for the inspection of posterity.... The pines thus weighed down are sharp-pointed at top, and remind me of firs and even hemlocks, their drooping boughs being wrapped about them like the folds of a cloak or a shawl. The crust is already strewn with bits of the green needles which have been broken off. Frequently the whole top stands up bare, while the middle and lower branches are drooping and massed together, resting on one another. But the low and spreading weeds in the fields and the wood paths are the most interesting. Here are asters (savory-leaved), whose flat, imbricated calyxes, three quarters of an inch over, are surmounted and inclosed in a perfectly transparent ice button, like a glass knob, through which you see the reflections of the brown calyx. These are very common. Each little blue curl calyx has a spherical button, like those over a little boy's jacket, little sprigs of them, and the pennyroyal has still smaller spheres more regularly arranged about its stem, chandelier-wise, and still smells through the ice. The finest grasses support the most wonderful burdens of ice and most bunched on their minute threads. These weeds are spread and arched over into the snow again, countless little arches a few inches high, each cased in ice, which you break with a tinkling crash at each step. The scarlet fruit of the cookspur lichen, seen glowing through the more opaque whitish or snowy crust of a stump, is, on close inspection, the richest sight of all, for the scarlet is increased and multiplied by reflection through the bubbles and hemispherical surfaces of the crust, as if it covered some vermilion grain thickly strewn. The brown cup lichens stand in their midst. The whole rough bark, too, is incased.
Already a squirrel has perforated the crust above the mouth of his burrow here and there, by the side of the path, and left some empty acorn shells on the snow. He has shoveled out this morning before the snow has frozen on his doorstep....
Particularly are we attracted in the winter by greenness and signs of growth, as the green and white shoots of grass and weeds pulled, or floating on the water, and also by color, as the cock-spur lichens, crimson birds, etc.
4 P. M. Up railroad. Since the sun has risen higher and fairly triumphed over the clouds, the ice has glistened with all the prismatic hues.... The whole top of the pine forest, as seen miles off in the horizon, is of sharp points, the leading shoots with a few plumes.
In a true history or biography, of how little consequence those events of which so much is commonly made.... I find in my journal that the most important events in my life, if recorded at all, are not dated.
Dec. 26, 1858. P. M. To Jenny Dugan's.... Call at a farmer's this Sunday P. nt., where. I surprise the well-to-do masters of the house, lounging in very ragged clothes, for which they think it necessary to apologize, and one of them is busy laying the supper table (at which he invites me to sit down at last), bringing up cold meat from the cellar and a lump of butter on the end of his knife, and making the tea by the time his mother gets home from church. Thus sincere and homely, as I am glad to know, is the actual life of these New England men, wearing rags indoors there which would disgrace a beggar (and are not beggars and paupers they who could be disgraced so), and doing the indispensable work, however humble. How much better and more humane it was than if they had imported and set up among their penates a headless torso from the ruins of Ireland! I am glad to find that our New England life has a genuine, humane core to it; that inside, after all, there is so little pretense and brag.... The middle-aged son sits there in the old unpainted house in a ragged coat, and helps his old mother about her work when the field does not require him.
Aristotle being almost, if not quite, the first to write systematically on animals, gives them of course only popular names, such as were common with the hunters, fowlers, fishers, and farmers of his day. He used no scientific terms. But he having the priority, and having, as it were, created science, and given it its laws, those popular Greek names, even when the animal to which they were applied cannot be identified, have been in great part preserved, and make the learned, far-fetched, and commonly unintelligible names of genera to-day, e. g., όλοθονρτον, etc. His "History of Animals" has thus become a very storehouse of scientific nomenclature.
Dec. 27, 1837.... The real heroes of minstrelsy have been ideal, even when the names of actual heroes have been perpetuated. The real Arthur, who "not only excelled the experienced past, but also the possible future," of whom it was affirmed, after many centuries, that he was not dead, but "had withdrawn from the world into some magical region from which at a future crisis he was to reappear, and lead the Cymri in triumph through the island," whose character and actions were the theme of the bards of Bretagne, and the foundation of their interminable romances, was only an ideal impersonation. Men claim for the ideal an actual existence also, but do not often expand the actual into the ideal. "If you do not believe me, go into Bretagne, and mention in the streets and villages that Arthur is really dead like other men. You will not escape with impunity. You will be either hooted with the curses of your hearers, or stoned to death."
The most remarkable instance of home-sickness is that of the colony of Franks transplanted by the Romans from the German Ocean to the Euxine, who, at length resolving to a man to abandon the country, seized the vessels which carried them out, and reached at last their native shores, after innumerable difficulties and dangers upon the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
It is surprising what things the snow betrays. I had not seen a meadow-mouse all summer, but no sooner does the snow come and spread its mantle over the earth than it is printed with the tracks of countless mice and larger animals. I see where the mouse has dived into a little hole in the snow not larger than my thumb by the side of a weed, and a yard farther reappeared, and so on alternately above and beneath. A snug life it lives. The crows come nearer to the houses, alight on trees by the roadside, apparently being put to it for food....
I frequently hear a dog bark at some distance in the night, which, strange as it may seem, reminds me of the cooing or crowing of a ring-dove which I heard every night a year ago at Perth Amboy. It was sure to coo on the slightest noise in the house, as good as a watch-dog. The crowing of cocks too reminds me of it, and now I think of it, it had precisely the intonation and accent of the cat-owl's hoό hoo-hoo-o-o, in each case, a sonorous dwelling on the last syllable.
As my mother made my pockets once of father's old fire bags, with the date of the formation of the society on them, 1794 (though they made but rotten pockets), so we put our meaning into those old mythologies. I am sure that the Greeks were commonly innocent of any such double entendre as we attribute to them.
What interesting contrasts our climate affords. In July you rush panting into the pond to cool yourself in the tepid water, when the stones on the bank are so heated that you cannot hold one tightly in your hand, and horses are melting on the road. Now you walk on the same pond frozen, amid the snow, with numbed fingers and feet, and see the water target bleached and stiff in the ice.
Nobody else knows, and he alone knows when something comes between him and his object. In the course of generations, however, men will excuse you for not doing as they do, if you will bring enough to pass in your own way.
Dec. 28, 1840. The snow hangs on the trees as the fruit of the season. In those twigs which the wind has preserved naked there is a warmer green for the contrast. The whole tree exhibits a kind of interior and household comfort, a sheltered and covert aspect. It has the snug inviting look of a cottage on the moors, buried in snow. Our voices ring hollowly through the woods as through a chamber, the twigs crackle under foot with private and household echoes. I have observed on a clear winter's morning that the woods have their southern window as well as the house, through which the first beams of the sun stream along their aisles and corridors. The sun goes up swiftly behind the limbs of the white pine, as the sashes of a window.
Dec. 28, 1852.... Both for bodily and mental health court the present. Embrace health wherever you find her....
It is worth while to apply what wisdom one has to the conduct of his life, surely. I find myself oftenest wise in little things and foolish in great ones. That I may accomplish some petty, particular affair well, I live my whole life coarsely. A broad margin of leisure is as beautiful in a man's life as in a book. Haste makes waste no less in life than in housekeeping. Keep the time, observe the hours of the universe, not of the cars. What are threescore years and ten hurriedly and coarsely lived to moments of divine leisure, in which your life is coincident with the life of the universe. We live too fast and coarsely, just as we eat too fast, and do not know the true savor of our food. We consult our will and our understanding and the expectation of men, not our genius. I can impose upon myself tasks which will crush me for life and prevent all expansion, and this I am but too inclined to do. Our moment of life costs many hours, hours not of business, but of preparation and invitation. Yet the man who does not betake himself at once and desperately to sawing is called a loafer, though he may be knocking at the doors of heaven all the while, which shall surely be opened to him. That aim in life is highest which requires the highest and finest discipline. How much, what infinite leisure it requires, as of a life-time, to appreciate a single phenomenon! You must camp down beside it as for life, having reached your land of promise, and give yourself wholly to it. It must stand for the whole world to you, symbolical of all things. The least partialness is your own defect of sight, and cheapens the experience fatally. Unless the humming of a gnat is as the music of the spheres, and the music of the spheres is as the humming of a gnat, they are naught to me. It is not communications to serve for a history (which are science), but the great story itself, that cheers and satisfies us.
Dec. 28, 1853.... I hear and see tree sparrows about the weeds in the garden. They seem to visit the gardens with the earliest snow, or is it that they are more obvious against the white ground. By their sharp, silvery chip, perchance, they inform each other of their whereabouts and keep together.
Dec. 28, 1854. [Nantucket.] A misty rain as yesterday. Captain Gardiner carried me to Siasconset in his carriage.... He is extensively engaged in raising pines on the island. There is not a tree to be seen except such as are set out about houses.... He showed me several lots of his of different sizes, one tract of three hundred acres sown in rows with a planter, where the young trees, two years old, were just beginning to green the ground, and I saw one of Norway pine and our pitch, mixed, eight years old, which looked quite like a forest at a distance. The Norway pines had grown the faster, with a longer shoot, and had a bluer look at a distance, more like the white pine The common pitch pines have a reddish crisped look at top. Some are sown in rows, some broadcast. At first Captain Gardiner was alarmed to find that the ground moles had gone along in the furrows directly under the plants and so injured the roots as to kill many of the trees, and he sowed over again. He was also discouraged to find that a sort of spindle worm had killed the leading shoot of a great part of his neighbor's older trees. These plantations must very soon change the aspect of the island. His common pitch pine seed obtained from the Cape cost him about twenty dollars a bushel; at least about a dollar a quart with the wings; and they told him it took about eighty bushels of cones to make one such bushel of seeds. I was surprised to find that the Norway pine seed without the wings imported from France had cost not quite two dollars a bushel delivered at New York or Philadelphia. He has ordered eight hogsheads of the best, clear wingless seeds, at this rate. I think he said it took about a gallon to sow an acre. He had tried to get white pine seed, but in vain. The cones had not contained any of late. (?) This looks as if he meant to sow a good part of the island, though he said he might sell some of the seed. It is an interesting enterprise.... This island must look exactly like a prairie, except that the view in clear weather is bounded by the sea. Saw crows and robins, also saw and heard larks frequently, but most abundant running along the ruts or circling about just over the ground in small flocks, what the inhabitants call snow-birds, a gray, bunting-like bird about the size of the snow-bunting. Can it be the seaside finch, or the savannah sparrow, or the shore lark?... A few years ago some one imported a dozen partridges from the main-laud, but though some were seen for a year or two, not one had been seen for some time, and they were thought to be extinct. Captain Gardiner thought the raccoons, which had been very numerous, might have caught them. In Harrison days some coons were imported and turned loose. They multiplied very fast, and became quite a pest, killing hens, etc., and were killed in turn. Finally, people turned out and hunted them with hounds, and killed seventy-five at one time, since which be had not heard of any. There were foxes once, but none now, and no indigenous animal bigger than a ground mole....
The last Indian, not of pure blood, died this very month, and I saw his picture with a basket of huckleberries in his hand.
Dec. 28, 1856. I am surprised to see the Fringilla hyemalis here. [Walden.]... The fishermen sit by their damp fire of rotten pine wood, so wet and chilly that even smoke in their eyes is a kind of comfort. There they sit, ever and anon scanning their reels to see if any have fallen, and if not catching many fish, still getting what they went for, though they may not be aware of it, i. e., a wilder experience than the town affords....
Dec. 28, 1858. P. M. To Walden. The earth is bare. I walk about the pond looking at the shores, since I have not paddled about it much of late years. What a grand place for a promenade!... That rocky shore under the pitch pines, which so reflects the light, is only three feet wide by one foot high, yet there even to-day the ice is melted close to the edge, and just off this shore the pickerel are most abundant. This is the warm and sunny side to which any one, man, bird, or quadruped, would soonest resort in cool weather. I noticed a few chickadees there in the edge of the pines in the sun, lisping and twittering cheerfully to one another with a reference to me, I think, the cunning and innocent little birds. One a little farther off utters the phbe note. There is a foot, more or less, of clear, open water at the edge here, and seeing this, one of these birds hops down, as if glad to find any open water at this season, and after prinking, it stands in the water on a stone, up to its belly, and dips its head, and flirts the water about vigorously, giving itself a good washing. I had not expected this at this season. No fear that it will catch cold. The ice cracks suddenly with a shivering jar, like crockery or the brittlest material, such as it is, and I notice, as I sit here at this open edge, that each time the ice cracks, though it may be a good distance off toward the middle, the water here is very much agitated. The ice is about six inches thick.
Dec. 29, 1840. As echo makes me enunciate distinctly, so the sympathy of a friend gives plainness and point to my speech. This is the advantage of letter-writing.
If we were wise enough, we should see to what virtue we were indebted for any happier moment we might have. No doubt we bad earned this at some time.
These motions everywhere in Nature must surely be the circulations of God;... the running stream, the waving tree, the roving wind, whence else their infinite health and freedom. I can see nothing so holy as unrelated play and frolic in this bower God has built for us. The suspicion of sin never comes to this experience. If men felt this they would never build temples even of marble or diamond (it would be sacrilege and profane), but disport them forever in this paradise....
It seems as if only one trait, one little incident in human biography need to be said or written in some era, that all readers may go mad after it, and the man who did the miracle is made a demigod henceforth. What we all do, not one can tell, and when some lucky speaker utters a truth of our experience and not of our speculation, we think be must have had the nine Muses and the three Graces to help him.
Dec. 29, 1851. The sun just risen. The ground is almost entirely bare.... It is warm as an April morning. There is a sound of bluebirds in the air, and the cocks crow as in the spring. The steam curls up from the roofs and the ground. You walk with open cloak. It is exciting to behold the smooth, glassy surface of water where the melted snow has formed large puddles and ponds, and to see it running in the sluices.... In the afternoon to Saw mill brook with W. E. C.... It feels as warm as in summer. You sit on any fence rail and vegetate in the sun, and realize that the earth may produce peas again. Yet they say that this open and mild weather is unhealthy. That is always the way with them. How admirable it is that we can never foresee the weather, that it is always novel. Yesterday nobody dreamed of to-day. Nobody dreams of to-morrow. Hence the weather is ever the news.... This day yesterday was as incredible as any other miracle. Now all creatures feel it, even the cattle chewing stalks in the barn-yards, and perchance it has even penetrated to the lurking places of the crickets under the rocks.
Dec. 29, 1853.... A driving snow-storm all day, imprisoning most, stopping the cars, blocking up the roads.... The snow penetrates through the smallest crevices about doors and windows.... It is the worst snow-storm to bear that I remember. A strong wind from the north blows the snow almost horizontally, and beside freezing you, almost takes your breath away. The driving snow blinds you, and when you are protected, you can see but a little way, it is so thick. Yet in spite of or on account of it all, I see the first flock of arctic snow-birds, Emberiza nivalis, near the depot, white and black, with a sharp whistle-like note.
Dec. 29, 1856. P. M. To Warren Miles's Mill. We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature every day. We must make root, send out some little fibre at least, even every winter day. I am sensible that I am imbibing health when I open my mouth to the wind. Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity always. Every house is, in this sense, a sort of hospital. A night and a forenoon is as much confinement to those wards as I can stand. I am aware that I recover some sanity, which I had lost, almost the instant that I come abroad.
H H was fishing a quarter of a mile this side of Hubbard's Bridge. He had caught a pickerel... twenty-six inches long,... a very handsome fish. Dark brown above, yellow and brown on the side, becoming at length almost a clear golden yellow low down, with a white abdomen and reddish fins. They are handsome fellows, both the pikes in the water and the tigers in the jungle. What tragedies are enacted under this dumb, icy platform in the fields What an anxious and adventurous life the small fishes must live, liable at any moment to be swallowed by the larger. No fish of moderate size can go stealing along safely in any part of the stream but suddenly there may come rushing out from this jungle or that, some greedy monster and gulp him down. Parent fishes, if they care for their offspring, how can they trust them abroad out of their sight.
It takes so many fishes a week to fill the maw of this large one. And the large ones! H H and company are lying in wait for them.
Dec. 29, 1859. Very cold morning. About 15° at 8 A. M. at our door. I went to the river immediately after sunrise; could see a little greenness in the ice, and also a little rose color from the snow, but far less than before sunset. Do both these phenomena then require a gross atmosphere? Apparently the ice is greenest when the sun is twenty or thirty minutes above the horizon.
Dec. 30, 1840.... Our Golden Age must after all be a pastoral one; we would be simple men in ignorance, and not accomplished in wisdom. We want great peasants more than great heroes. The sun would shine along the highway to some purpose, if we would unlearn our wisdom and practice illiterate. truth henceforth.... Let us grow to the full stature of our humbleness ere we aspire to be greater. It is great praise in the poet [Virgil] to have made husbandry famous.
To groan, and the share, worn by the furrow, to shine."
Georg. i. 43.
And again when the husbandman conducts water down the slope to restore his thirsty crops,
" That, falling, makes a hoarse murmur among the smooth rocks, and tempers the parching fields with its bubbling streams."
Describing the end of the Golden Age and the commencement of the reign of Jupiter, he says:
honey from the leaves, and removed fire,
And stayed the wine everywhere flowing in rivers
That experience, by meditating, might invent various arts
By degrees, and seek the blade of corn in furrows,
And strike out hidden fire from the veins of the flint."
Dec. 30, 1841....
Within the circuit of this plodding life
There are moments of an azure hue,
...as unpolluted, fair, as is the violet
Or anemone, when the spring strews them
By some south wood side; which make
The best philosophy... untrue.
...to console man for his grievance here,
I have remembered, when the winter came,
High in my chamber, in the frosty nights,
How, in the summer past, some
Unrecorded beam, slanted across
... [an] upland pasture where the Johnswort grew,
Or heard, amidst the verdure of my mind,
The bee's long smothered hum;
So, by the cheap economy of God,
Made rich to go upon my wintry work again.
* * * * * * * *
When the snow is falling thick and fast, the flakes nearest you seem to be driving straight to the ground, while the more distant seem to float in the air in a quivering bank, like feathers, or like birds at play, and not as if sent on any errand. So, at a little distance, all the works of nature proceed with sport and frolic. They are more in the eye, and less in the deed.
Dec. 30, 1853. In winter every man is, to a slight extent, dormant, just as some animals are but partially awake, though not commonly classed with those that hibernate. The summer circulations are to some extent stopped, the range of his afternoon walk is somewhat narrower, he is more or less confined to the highway and woodpath; the weather oftener shuts him up in his burrow, he begins to feel the access of dormancy, and to assume the spherical form of the marmot, the nights are longest, he is often satisfied if he only gets to the post office in the course of the day. The arctic voyagers are obliged to invent and willfully engage in active amusements to keep themselves awake and alive.... Even our experience is something like wintering in the pack.
What a different phenomenon a muskrat now from what it is in summer. Now, if one floats or swims, its whole back out, or crawls out upon the ice at one of those narrow oval water spaces, some twenty rods long (in calm weather, smooth mirrors), in a broad frame of white ice or yet whiter snow, it is seen at once, as conspicuous (or more so) as a fly on a window-pane or a mirror. But in summer, how many hundreds crawl along the weedy shore, or plunge in the long river unsuspected by the boatman!
In May and June all our hills and fields are adorned with a profusion of the pretty little, more or less bell-shaped flowers of this family, commonly turned toward the earth, and more or less tinged with red or pink, and resounding with the hum of insects, each one the forerunner of a berry the most natural, wholesome, and palatable that the soil can produce. The early low blueberry, which I will call. bluet," adopting the name from the Canadians, is probably the prevailing kind of whortleberry in New England, for the high blueberry and huckleberry are unknown in many sections.
What though the woods be cut down. This emergency was long ago foreseen and provided for by nature, and the interregnum is not allowed to be a barren one. She is full of resources, and not only begins instantly to heal that scar, but she consoles and refreshes us with fruits such as the forest did not produce.... As the sandal wood is said to diffuse its perfume around the woodman who cuts it, so, in this case, Nature rewards with unexpected fruits the hand that lays her waste.
Dec. 31, 1840.... There must be respiration as well as aspiration. We should not walk on tiptoe, but healthily expand to our full circumference on the soles of our feet.... If aspiration be repeated long without respiration, it will be no better than expiration, or simply losing one's breath. In the healthy, for every aspiration there will be a respiration which is to make his idea take shape, and give its tone to the character. Every time he steps buoyantly up, he steps solidly down again, and stands the firmer on the ground for his independence of it. We should fetch the whole heel, sole, and toe horizontally down to earth. Let not ours be a wiped virtue, as men go about with an array of clean linen, but unwashed as a fresh flower, not a clean Sunday garment, but better as a soiled week-day one.
I am too late, perhaps, to see the sand foliage in the deep cut; should have been there day before yesterday. It is now too wet and soft. Yet in some places it is perfect. I see some perfect leopard's paws. These things suggest that there is motion in the earth as well as on the surface; it lives and grows.... I seem to see some of the life that is in the spring bud and blossom, more intimately, nearer its fountain head, the fancy sketches and designs of the artist. It is more simple and primitive growth; as if for ages sand and clay might have thus flowed into the forms of foliage, before plants were produced to clothe the earth....
I observed this afternoon the old Irish woman at the shanty in the woods, sitting out on the hillside bare-headed in the rain, and on the icy, though thawing ground, knitting. She comes out like the ground squirrel, at the least intimation of warmer weather, while I walk still in a great coat, and under an umbrella. She will not have to go far to be buried, so close she lives to the earth. Such Irish as these are naturalizing themselves at a rapid rate, and threaten at last to displace the Yankees, as the latter have the Indians. The process of acclimation is rapid with them. They draw long breaths in the American sick-room.... There is a low mist in the woods. It is a good day to study lichens. The view so confined, it compels your attention to near objects, and the white background reveals the disks of the lichens distinctly. They appear more loose, flowing, expanded, flattened out, the colors brighter for the damp. The round, greenish-yellow lichens on the white pines loom through the mist (or are seen dimly) like shields whose devices you would fain read. The trees appear all at once covered with the crop of lichens and mosses of all kinds.... This is their solstice, and your eyes run swiftly through the mist to these things only. On every fallen twig even, that has lain under the snows, as well as on the trees, they appear erect, and now first to have attained their full expansion. Nature has a day for each of her creations. To-day it is an exhibition of lichens at Forest Hall. The livid green of some, the fruit of others, they eclipse the trees they cover; the red, club-shaped (baobab tree-like), on the stumps, the erythrean stumps; ah, beautiful is decay. True, as Thales said, the world was made out of water. That is the principle of all things.
To-night I heard Mrs. lecture on womanhood. The most important fact about the lecture was that a woman gave it, and in that respect it was suggestive. Went to see her afterward. But the interview added nothing to the impression, rather subtracted from it. She was a woman in the too common sense, after all.
Dec. 31, 1853.... It is a remarkable sight, this snow-clad landscape, the fences and bushes half-buried, and the warm sun on it.... The town and country is now so still, no rattle of wagons nor even jingle of sleigh bells, every tread being as with woolen feet.... In such a day as this, the crowing of a cock is heard very far and distinctly.... There are a few sounds still which never fail to affect me, the notes of a wood thrush and the sound of a vibrating chord. These affect me as many sounds once did often, and as almost all should. The strain of the ζolian harp and of the wood thrush are the truest and loftiest preachers that I know now left on this earth. I know of no missionaries to us heathen comparable to them. They, as it were, lift us up in spite of ourselves. They intoxicate and charm us. Where was that strain mixed, into which this world was dropped, but as a lump of sugar, to sweeten the draught? I would be drunk, drunk, drunk, dead drunk to this world with it forever. He that bath ears, let him hear. The contact of sound with a human ear whose bearing is pure and unimpaired is coincident with an ecstasy. Sugar is not so sweet to the palate as sound to a healthy ear. The bearing of it makes men brave.... These things alone remind me of my immortality, which is else a fable. As I hear, I realize and see clearly what at other times I only dimly remember. I get the value of the earth's extent and the sky's depth. It... gives me the freedom of all bodies, of all nature. I leave my body in a trance, and accompany the zephyr and the fragrance.
I. saw some squirrels' nests of oak leaves high in the trees, and directly after a gray squirrel tripping along the branches of an oak and shaking down the snow. He ran down the oak on the side opposite from me over the snow and up another tall and slender oak, also on the side opposite from me which was bare, and leaped down about four feet into a white pine, and then ran up still higher into its thick green top and clung behind the main stem, perfectly still.... This he did to conceal himself, though obliged to come nearer to me to accomplish it.
Dec. 31, 1859.... How vain to try to teach youth or anybody truths. They can only learn them after their own fashion, and when they get ready. I do not mean by this to condemn our system of education, but to show what it amounts to. A hundred boys at college are drilled in physics, metaphysics, languages, etc. There may be one or two in each hundred, prematurely old, perchance, who approach the subject from a similar point of view to their teachers', but as for the rest and the most promising, it is like agricultural chemistry to so many Indians. They get a valuable drilling, it may be, but they do not learn what you profess to teach. They at most only learn where the arsenal is, in case they should ever want to use any of its weapons. The young men, being young, necessarily listen to the lecturer on history, just as they do to the singing of a bird. They expect to be affected by something be may say. It is a kind of poetic pabulum and imagery that they get. Nothing comes quite amiss to their mill."Nosque equis oriens afflavit anhelis."
And if now they hate, I muse as in sombre, cloudy weather, not despairing of the absent ray.
" Illic sera rubens accendit lumina vesper."
Jan. 1, 1842.... The virtuous soul possesses a fortitude and hardihood which not the grenadier nor pioneer can match. It never shrinks. It goes singing to its work. Effort is its relaxation. The rude pioneer work of the world has been done by the most devoted worshipers of beauty.... In winter is their campaign. They never go into quarters. They are elastic under the heaviest burden, under the extremest physical suffering.
Jan. 1, 1852.... I have observed that one mood is the natural critic of another. When possessed with a strong feeling on any subject foreign to the one I may be writing on, I know very well what of good and what of bad I have written on the latter. It looks to me now as it will ten years hence. My life is then earnest, and will tolerate no makeshifts nor nonsense. What is tinsel, or euphuism, or irrelevant is revealed to such a touchstone. In the light of a strong feeling all things take their places, and truth of every kind is seen as such. Now let me read my verses, and I will tell you if the god has had a hand in them. I wish to survey my composition for a moment from the least favorable point of view. I wish to be translated to the future, and look at my work as it were at a structure on the plain, to observe what portions have crumbled under the influence of the elements.
I have so much faith in the power of truth to communicate itself that I should not believe a friend, if he should tell me that he had given credit to an unjust rumor concerning me. Suspect! Ah, yes, you may suspect a thousand things, but I well know that what you suspect most confidently of all is just the truth. Your other doubts but flavor this your main suspicion. They are the condiments which, taken alone, do simply bite the tongue....
Standing on the north side of a bush or tree, looking against the sky, you see only the white ghost of a tree, without a mote of earthiness; but as you go round it, the dark core comes into view. It makes all the odds imaginable whether you are traveling N. or S. The drooping birches along the edges of woods are the most feathery, fairy-like ostrich plumes, and the color of their trunks increases the delusion. The weight of the ice gives to the pines the forms which northern trees, like the firs, constantly wear, bending and twisting the branches; for the twigs and plumes of the pines, being frozen, remain as the wind held them, and new portions of the trunk are exposed. Seen from the N. there is no greenness in the pines, and the character of the tree is changed. The willows along the edge of the river look like sedge in the meadows. The sky is overcast, and a fine snowy hail and rain is falling, and these ghost-like trees make a scenery which reminds you of Spitzbergen. I see now the beauty of the causeway by the bridge, alders below swelling into the road, overtopped by willows and maples. The fine grasses and shrubs in the meadow rise to meet and mingle with the drooping willows, and the whole makes an indistinct impression like a mist. Through all this, the road runs toward those white, ice-clad, ghostly or fairy trees in the distance, toward spirit-land. The pines are as white as a counterpane, with raised embroidery and white tassels and fringes. Each fascicle of leaves or needles is held apart by an icy club surmounted by a little snowy or icy ball. Finer than the Saxon arch is this path running under the pines, roofed not with crossing boughs, but drooping, ice-covered, irregular twigs. In the midst of this stately pine, towering like the solemn ghost of a tree, I see the white, ice-clad boughs of other trees appearing, of a different character; sometimes oaks with leaves incrusted, or fine-sprayed maples or walnuts. But finer than all, this red oak, its leaves incrusted like shields a quarter of an inch thick, and a thousand fine spicula like long serrations at right angles with their planes upon the edges. It produces an indescribably rich effect, the color of the leaf coming softened through the ice, a delicate fawn of many shades. Where the plumes of the pitch pine are short and spreading close to the trunk, sometimes perfect cups or rays are formed. Pitch pines present rough, massy grenadier. plumes, each having a darker spot or cavity in the end where you look in to the bud. I listen to the booming of the pond as if it were a reasonable creature. I return at last in the rain, and am coated with a glaze, like the fields....
The drifts mark the standstill or equilibrium between the currents of air or particular winds. In our greatest snow-storms, the wind being northerly, the greatest drifts are on the south side of houses and fences.... I notice that in the angle made by our house and shed, a S. W. exposure, the snow-drift does not lie close about the pump, but is a foot off, forming a circular bowl, showing that there was an eddy about it. The snow is like a mould, showing the form of the eddying currents of air which have been impressed on it, while the drift and all the rest is that which fell between the currents or where they counterbalanced each other. These boundary lines are mountain barriers.
The snow is the great betrayer. It not only shows the track of mice, otters, etc., etc., which else we should rarely, if ever, see, but the tree sparrows are more plainly seen against its white ground, and they in turn are attracted by the dark weeds it reveals. It also drives the crows and other birds out of the woods to the villages for food. We might expect to find in the snow the footprint of a life superior to our own, of which no zoology takes cognizance. Is there no trace of a nobler life than that of an otter or an escaped convict to be looked for in it? Shall we suppose that is the only life that has been abroad in the night? It is only the savage that can see the track of no higher life than an otter's. Why do the vast snow plains give us pleasure, the twilight of the bent and half-buried woods? Is not all there consonant with virtue, justice, purity, courage, magnanimity; and does not all this amount to the track of a higher life than the otter's, a life which has not gone by and left a footprint merely, but is there with its beauty, its music, its perfume, its sweetness, to exhilarate and recreate us? All that we perceive is the impress of its spirit. If there is a perfect government of the world according to the highest laws, do we find no trace of intelligence there, whether in the snow, or the earth, or in ourselves, no other trail but such as a dog can scent? Is there none which an angel can detect and follow, none to guide a man in his pilgrimage, which water will not conceal? Is there no odor of sanctity to be perceived? Is its trail too old? Have mortals lost the scent?... Are there not hunters who seek for something higher than foxes, with judgment more discriminating than the senses of fox-hounds, who rally to a nobler music than that of the bunting-horn? As there is contention among the fishermen who shall be the first to reach the pond as soon as the ice will bear, in spite of the cold; as the hunters are forward to take the field as soon as the first snow has fallen, so he who would make the most of his life for discipline must be abroad early and late, in spite of cold and wet, in pursuit of nobler game, whose traces are there most distinct, a life which we seek not to destroy, but to make our own; which when pursued does not earth itself, does not burrow downward, but upward, takes not to the trees, but to the heavens, as its home; which the hunter pursues with winged thoughts and aspirations (these the dogs that tree it), rallying his pack with the bugle notes of undying faith.... Do the Indian and hunter only need snow-shoes, while the saint sits indoors in embroidered slippers?
Jan. 1, 1856.... P. M. To Walden.... On the ice at Walden are very beautiful large leaf crystals in great profusion. The ice is frequently thickly covered with them for many rods. They seem to be connected with the rosettes, a running together of them, look like a loose bunch of small white feathers springing from a tuft of down, for their shafts are lost in a tuft of fine snow like the down about the shaft of a feather, as if a feather bed had been shaken over the ice. They are, on a close examination, surprisingly perfect leaves, like ferns, only very broad for their length, and commonly more on one side the midrib than the other. They are from an inch to an inch and a half long, and three fourths of an inch wide, and slanted, where I look, from the S. W. They have first a very distinct midrib, though so thin that they cannot be taken up; then distinct ribs branching from this, commonly opposite; and minute ribs springing again from these last, as in many ferns, the last running to each crenation in the border. How much farther they are subdivided the naked eye cannot discern. They are so thin and fragile that they melt under your breath while you are looking closely at them. A fisherman says they were much finer in the morning. In other places the ice is strewn with a different kind of frost-work, in little patches, as if oats had been spilled, like fibres of asbestos rolled, one half or three fourths of an inch long and one eighth or more wide. Here and there patches of them a foot or two over, like some boreal grain spilled.
Jan. 1, 1858.... I have lately been surveying the Walden woods so extensively and minutely that I can see it mapped in my mind's eye as so many men's wood-lots, and am aware when I walk there that I am at a given moment passing from such a one's wood-lot to such another's. I fear this particular dry knowledge may affect my imagination and fancy, that it will not be easy to see so much wildness and native vigor there as formerly. No thicket will seem so unexplored now that I know a stake and stones may be found in it.
In the Maine woods you are not reminded of these things. 'T is true the map informs you that you stand on land granted by the State to such an academy, or on Bingham's purchase; but these names do not impose on you, for you see nothing to remind you of the academy or of Bingham.
With cheerful heart 1 could be a sojourner in the wilderness. I should be sure to find there the catkins of the alder. When I read of them in the accounts of northern adventurers by Baffin's Bay or Mackenzie's River, I see how even there too I could dwell. They are my little vegetable redeemers. Methinks my virtue will not flag ere they come again. They are worthy to have had a greater than Neptune or Ceres for their donor. Who was the benignant goddess that bestowed them on mankind?
In moments of quiet and leisure my thoughts are more apt to revert to some natural than to any human relation.
Chaucer's sincere sorrow in his latter days for the grossness of his earlier works, and that he "cannot recall and annul" what he had "written of the base and filthy love of men towards women, but alas, they are now continued from man to man," says he, "and I cannot do what I desire," is all very creditable to his character.